NBA Playoffs: Possible First Round Upsets
by Trevor Whenham - 04/20/2007
As much as I love basketball, I think that the first round of the NBA playoffs is a total waste of time. The difference between the top teams and those that barely scraped into the playoffs is often so large that a competitive, or even interesting, series is nothing more than an impossible dream. The only time that the first round is even remotely entertaining is when there is a very rare upset. It would be a better league if they just let the top eight teams in. The first round will last for two weeks, though, so we might as well look for those potential upsets in the slim hope that they will make the dullness bearable.
Suns vs. Lakers - Absolutely no chance. The Suns beat the Lakers in the playoffs last year without Amare Stoudemire. He's back and playing great, Leandro Barbosa has stepped up his game and Steve Nash is as least as good as he was as MVP last year. The Lakers, on the other hand, are certainly no better than they were last year, and likely a fair bit worse. Kobe is as good as there is in the league, but he is so much better than everyone he plays with that it's scary. Unless he scores 120 a night the Lakers just won't be able to compete. The bookmakers agree - the series price has the Suns as -1600 favorites.
Cavs vs. Wizards - This series had such potential to be brilliant - Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler against King LeBron and his supporting cast. But then Arenas and Butler went down with injuries and all of those hopes were lost. Butler is gone, and though Arenas has made noises about returning he won't be anywhere near his best if he does. Cleveland has only looked good rather than great this year, so maybe an easy win here will set them up for the much tougher series that will come next. According to oddsmakers, the Cavs are -2500 favorites for the series.
Pistons vs. Magic - As much as the Magic are improving, and as bright as the future of Dwight Howard is, this series could get ugly. Not only are the Pistons better at nearly every position -- and deeper and more experienced to boot -- but they are also the best team in the East on the road, too. They were 27-14 away from the Palace, and they did it in style, too - impressively, they covered 28 of those games. The Magic were two games under .500 even with a four game winning streak to end the season, and they owe their position in the playoffs to the pathetic lower half of the East. The Pistons are -1500 on the series, so it's certainly not likely that there will be an upset here, either.
Mavericks vs. Warriors - The Warriors got a raw deal. They would be a very intriguing choice if they were playing anyone besides the elite of the West. They are as hot as a team can be. After being counted out as dead in at the beginning of March, they ended the season by winning 16 of their last 21 games, and nine of their last 10. They believe in themselves, and that's just the kind of thing that can be dangerous in the playoffs. Unfortunately, they aren't going to catch the Mavs off guard. They're tough, they're deep and they have been possessed ever since they were embarrassed in the NBA Finals last year. It would be easy for a team in the position of the Mavs to get cocky and look past the first round, but I really don't think that you have to worry about that with Dirk and the boys. Some people will be tempted by the fat +1100 price on the Warriors for the series given the way that they are playing, but it's hard to make an argument that they represent a significant bargain even at that price. Maybe Golden State should petition to be moved to the East.
Spurs vs. Nuggets - If you were only barely paying attention, you might get excited about the prospects of the Nuggets after the way the season ended - the Spurs lost by 23 in San Antonio to end the season. The truth, though, is that the it was just a glorified NBA-DL game. The players who didn't play make up an impressive all-star team - Duncan, Ginobli, Parker, Melo, Iverson, Nene. Despite that, it's not hard to get excited about the Nuggets. After a rough stretch after the arrival of Iverson, they have found their groove. They have won 10 of their last 11, and their two superstars have discovered the power and the joy of cooperation. Their case is made stronger by the fact that they had winning records both in Denver and on the road - a claim that can't be made by 10 of the 16 teams in the playoffs. Sadly, at least for the cause of an upset, the Spurs are in fine form as well. They lost their last three, but they hardly tried in any of them. Before that they'd gone on a nifty 25-3 run. They're the best team at home in the second half, and they look ready to play. Given the killer instinct of Iverson this series has the best chance of any we've discussed to be an upset, but that's not saying much. The Spurs are still -800 to win.
So what's the verdict? I'm not going to hold my breath for an upset. I guess I'll just have to be content with watching the three series that aren't a foregone conclusion. Or at least the two series - I don't have high hopes for the Jazz, either.